Finger Cymbal Patterns for Beginners, continued
Video PLAYLIST how-to play Finger Cymbals for Beginners


How to Take Your Skills to the Next Level

Play Your Finger Cymbal Like a Pro!

Zaghareet! Magazine (July/Aug 2009)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

Part 7: the Second Article on Playing Chifti-telli Patterns

Let's continue with finger cymbal (zills) patterns for Chifti-telli, the slow, 8-count belly dance rhythm.
Go to this article if you're just starting to play finger cymbals to Chifti-telli.

As I found when I was making the companion video clip for playing with chifti-telli, since each 8-count rhythm has two distinct halves, it’s more complex than the 4/4 rhythms we did in previous articles.

Each chifti-telli rhythm seems to tell a micro-story with a beginning, middle, and end - and yet the “end” seems to leave you hanging, like there’s more to the story! It’s really an entrancing rhythm.

Simple, Yet So Complex...

Chifti-telli has a slightly higher level of difficulty for beginner cymbal players, because we often reflect the two halves of the rhythm differently NOT ONLY when playing cymbals but when dancing as well.

If you’re just starting, use a simple in-place movement (like a figure-8 hip move) while you get used to the cymbal pattern. Always practice your cymbals “in dance mode”, not sitting down. Take each half of the rhythm separately, as we did in the previous article. (In that article we went over three patterns to use with the first half; and suggested how to play through the counts 5-6-7 of the second half.) As you can see in the YouTube clip I used a travel step during the first half of the rhythm (4 counts), then a turn OR in-place isolation (hip drops, head slide) for the second set of 4 counts.

Your cymbal pattern can change too, or simply use one of the Foundation patterns (Singles, Doubles, or Triples) all the way through the rhythm. We’ll do that in the second video clip since we’ll be working with a slightly faster tempo.

Stay positive - it takes a while before you can think, dance, and play at the same time!


As you’ve noticed if you’ve been working with this rhythm, the accents are very distinct and easy to hear, but can be hard to count. In the first half of chifti-telli, the accents are on counts 1, 2 +, + 4.

You can also count the first-half accents another way (as a “2-3-3" pattern), like this:

1 2 1 2 3 1 2 3 (count it as evenly as it looks, with no long pauses anywhere). 
Here the accents are bold and underlined: 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 3.

If you snap your fingers on the accents as you say that, you’ll hear the beginning of the chifti-telli rhythm. (And by the way, notice there’s eight digits? That corresponds to counting the first half of the rhythm the “usual way”: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + )

But this is all just extra info - you don’t have to know it to play cymbals! But you should know it (or try to learn it) if you’re teaching dance.

If this is making sense to you so far, let’s move on to the second half of the rhythm.

The second half accents - counts 5, 6, 7 - are very simple and bold, they’re not syncopated or complex like the first half of the rhythm. You can hardly get simpler than just accenting the regular beat - it’s almost like a “march” or parade rhythm.

So what if we made the FIRST HALF of the rhythm simple (playing Singles, Doubles, etc.) and played something more complex on the SECOND HALF? Wow, so much to think about!

Try this simple cymbal pattern below (Figure 1):


That is “whatever you want to play” on the first half, and on the second half of the rhythm, it’s 123-1-1, or even 1-123-1. Remember “claps” - muting the cymbals instead of letting them openly ring, is a great contrast in sound too. When you play the “1"s you can play both hands together, which will also make a difference in sound.

One more thing...

What about that silent last beat, count 8? There’s no accent there, just empty space - it’s “open to possibilities” - there’s your invitation to play around a little. You can hear drummers do this often, in the empty space at the end of a rhythm (especially this one), they’ll play a little Roll or use various drum sounds (pops, teks, slaps).

If you’ve gotten this far and are still keeping up, let’s add a little flavor on the last beat that’s been left empty. The nice part is you don’t even have to MOVE when you play it, so that’s like a bonus at this point!

Do one of our previous patterns through the first half, and also on counts 5, 6, 7, even leave it empty (no cymbals at all) then play on count 8, where there are no main accents. See Figure 2, below:

flavor on the

If you do play on count 8 (especially through “a+a”), remember that the next cymbal pattern will be starting right away, with no pause or space. You might want to think of whatever you play on count 8 as a “prelude” or decoration preceding whatever pattern is next.

My suggestion is to use this count-8 fill-in sparingly, not every single time. That way it will sound like the ending of a “set” of rhythms, even if it’s only a set of two, or set of four rhythms. That’s often the way percussion is done - remember finger cymbals are a percussion instrument! You may find that this ending works well at the end of a musical phrase, before a different part of the melody starts. After all, it’s all about the music, right?

Hope you’ve enjoyed this little series of articles and videos onplaying cymbals with certain rhythms! Keep playing and let me know if you have any questions or don’t understand something I’ve written. Happy dancing!

See Parts 1 - 6 of my free Video Tutorial Playlist: How to Play Finger Cymbals.